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"U.S. mainland amid respite from hurricanes"
(Source: USA TODAY, 5/30/02)

MIAMI ^ Atlantic hurricane season starts Saturday, and the U.S.
mainland is overdue for a hit. The last several years have been more
active than average in terms of the number of hurricanes forming at
sea. Yet two years have passed without one hitting the U.S. coastline.
Forecasters say the uncommon streak of good fortune, due in part to a
stubborn weather  trough steering storms away from the East Coast,
can't hold forever.

"We've basically been lucky. And we shouldn't expect to go on being
lucky," says Hugh Willoughby, hurricane research division director for
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The longest period on record without a U.S. landfall: from 1980 to
1983 ^ three years, seven days.

NOAA experts say the Atlantic hurricane season will have a normal to
slightly above-normal level of storm activity, with nine to 13
tropical storms, six to eight of which becoming hurricanes. They
predict two to three major storms. The season lasts through Nov. 30.

On Friday, hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State
University is expected to revise downward his April 5 forecast, which
called for 12 named storms, including seven hurricanes. Gray says
cooler-than-expected Atlantic Ocean temperatures may be less favorable
for storms.

Hurricane forecasters for the Central Pacific region, which includes
Hawaii, also expect more activity, with six to seven storms forming,
instead of the average four to five. Meteorologists, who speak of
hurricane trends over decades, believe we're in a heightened storm
period. Regular changes in ocean temperatures and climate patterns
help shape these active and slower cycles. Since 1995, the number of
storms in every season but one has exceeded the average.

Typically, 10 tropical storms form during the Atlantic hurricane
season. Six of those intensify into hurricanes, storms with winds of
at least 74 mph. And, on average, two strengthen into major
hurricanes, with winds greater than 111 mph.

The powerful storms inspire both fear and fascination. The Arawak
tribes of the Caribbean called them "hurakan," for evil spirit.
William McKinley, while president from 1897 to 1901, said a hurricane
was more fearsome than the Spanish Navy.

Modern forecasters worry about the potential for more damaging storms
because the coastal population has mushroomed in the past two decades
from 40 million to 50 million people. And many coastal residents are
hurricane novices.

Yet, one of the biggest hurricane myths is that only coastal residents
should be concerned. Even though storm surge is historically the
biggest killer during hurricanes, far more people have died inland in
the past three decades as a result of flooding triggered by heavy
rains associated with hurricanes.

National Hurricane Center researchers studied 600 U.S. hurricane
deaths from 1970 through 1999 and found:

Flooding from rain claimed 351 lives.

High winds killed 71.

Six drowned in storm surge.

Another myth is that a tropical storm is a hurricane's puny cousin and
easy to ignore. Last June's Tropical Storm Allison caused 41 deaths in
six states. Damages topped $5 billion. The hardest wallop was in
Houston, where 45,000 homes and businesses were devastated. Then
Allison, which never became a hurricane, drenched areas from New
Orleans to Boston.

Given such destruction, it's no surprise humans have long yearned to
curb hurricanes. Ancient tribes made offerings, while atomic
scientists dreamed of busting them up with nuclear bombs. Neither
succeeded.

Hurricanes release energy equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb
exploding every 20 minutes, experts say. Dropping a bomb into the
maelstrom would be like tossing marshmallows to stop a freight train ^
not to mention the radioactive fallout. The bomb notion was eventually
discarded, as was the idea of towing in icebergs to cool the warm
oceans where hurricanes gain strength.

Homeowners also have some misguided hurricane notions. They crisscross
windows with masking tape, a process that doesn't prevent shattering
glass but does produce sun-baked Xs that are impossible to remove.
They stock up with steaks and other supplies, not realizing power
failures mean spoiled refrigerated food.

Throwing hurricane parties as a storm approaches grew less common
after the devastation caused a decade ago by Hurricane Andrew, which
hit southern Florida and Louisiana, flattened 125,000 homes and
claimed 26 lives. But such parties are becoming fashionable again.

The National Hurricane Center's director, Max Mayfield, points to
"hurricane amnesia" if a few years pass without a destructive storm.
"It just takes one hurricane over your community to make it a very bad
year," he says.

//end//



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